Prejudice and Pride in Pride and Prejudice
In any literary work the title and introduction make at least some allusion to the important events of the novel. With Pride and Prejudice, Austen takes this convention to the extreme, designing all of the first and some of the second half of the novel after the title and the first sentence. The concepts of pride, prejudice, and "universally acknowledged truth" (51), as well as the interpretation of those concepts, are the central focus of the novel. They dictate the actions of almost all the major characters (not just Darcy and Elizabeth), and foreshadow all of the major events in the novel, especially in the first few chapters, involving the first ball at Netherfield. While Darcy comes to represent pride, and Elizabeth prejudice, all of the characters in Pride and Prejudice are impacted by both pride and prejudice, and their scorn towards the two central characters in the novel becomes only hypocritical.
While everyone (at first) scorns Darcy's excessive pride, that very same pride in self and family effects the actions of many of the characters. Pride in her daughters makes Mrs. Bennet confident that they will soon be married off. "It is very likely," she tells her husband, "that [Bingley] may fall in love with one of them" (52). Pride makes the early Darcy cold and disrespectful, and Miss Bingley haughty, jealous, and spiteful. "[The Bingley sisters] were in fact very fine ladies...but proud and conceited. They were rather handsome, had been educated in one of the first private seminaries in town, had a fortune of twenty thousand pounds...and were therefore in every respect entitled to think well of themselves, and meanly of others" (63). Pride drives Mr. Collins's incessant ramblings about Catherine de Bourgh's estate at Rosings, and his overdone formalities with the Bennets. "Proud" summarizes the general demeanor of Lady Catherine de Bourgh herself, as she looks upon the world down the length of her nose. "Some time we shall be happy to hear [Elizabeth play]," she informs Mr. Collins and Darcy. Then she adds, "Our instrument is a capable one, probably superior to [Elizabeth's]" (199). Pride assures Elizabeth that her first impressions of Darcy are indisputable. Thus, while only Darcy seems to act as the embodiment of pride, the other characters are not immune to it.
Just as the characters unknowingly follow Darcy's example of pride, they commit Elizabeth's crucial mistake, prejudging people (especially Darcy) according to horribly inadequate experience. Elizabeth's positive judgement of Wickham and negative one of Darcy prevent her from seeing Wickham's devious and whimsical nature and Darcy's honest efforts to improve despite the apparent lack of incentive. Like Elizabeth, the rest of the Bennets, and indeed the rest of those living in the vicinity of Meryton, believe Darcy to be a wholly disagreeable man. (In fact, he began as such, but even when he began to...